Ellen Hu ’24
The norm of white male superheroes is no more- what lies ahead for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is a world of superheroines who are ready to break and make the universe as we know it.
On Aug. 25, 2019, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige outlined the beginning of the MCU’s fourth phase at the annual Disney convention. A year later, after original plans had been modified due to COVID-19 restrictions, more details and updated timelines were revealed in the Disney Investor Day presentation on Dec. 10, 2020.
So far, the MCU has been divided into three phases with the most recent film, “Spiderman: Far From Home” (2019), finishing the third phase. These three phases have introduced iconic superheroes to the screen including Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor.
While phase one and two focused on the creation and development of a male-dominated superhero force, phase three of the MCU was a transition period. It introduced new characters and moved the franchise towards a more inclusive cast. Marvel made history when they released the film “Captain Marvel” on March 8, 2019. It was the first female-led film within the MCU and the only female-led superhero movie to pass the billion dollar mark, bringing in $1.1 billion.
Yet, looking at the casts of large Marvel productions make it abundantly clear that male heroes are the staple within the franchise. There were 22 male characters and eight female characters within the main cast of the “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018). While the number of female characters increased to 12 in the consecutive “Avengers: Endgame” (2019), the number of male heroes still outnumbered their female counterparts.
Many male heroes will continue their role in the MCU within phase four, however Marvel has introduced a number of projects introducing new female heroes or projects with female-led casts. Many of these productions fall under Marvel’s new television series within the Disney+ streaming service.
“WandaVision”, whose finale was recently released on March 5, is the first production piece that introduces audiences to the franchise’s fourth phase—and to a Marvel series who focuses on a female superhero. The series centers around Wanda Maximoff, portrayed by Elizabeth Olsen, as she deals with her personal loss from “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame”. For the first time, audiences explore Maximoff’s backstory and experience the use of her comic book moniker, “Scarlet Witch”.
“WandaVision” has led to the resurfacing of character Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) and introduced an adult Monica Rambeau, (Teyonah Parris) who was previously seen as a child in “Captain Marvel”. While it is unclear how exactly these characters will play a role in future MCU projects, the events of the series strongly suggest that Rambeau will return to the screen as a superheroine. In the Marvel comics, Rambeau takes on the moniker Photon and Spectrum with the ability to convert her body to energy.
“WandaVision” is not the only Marvel Studies series that centers around a female heroine. Five out of the remaining 11 announced shows are confirmed to have a female lead. The number of female characters increases when smaller leading women roles, such as Sharon Carter in “Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” are included.
Returning female lead Peggy Carter, portrayed by Hayley Atwell, will return in “What If?” as an alternate version of Captain America known as Captain Britain. The animated series is planned to be released summer 2021.
While some characters will be returning, many of the upcoming series center around heroines who have not yet been brought to the screen. The series “She-Hulk” will introduce Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer Walters who takes on the moniker “She-Hulk” in the Marvel Comics. The series is set to be released in 2022.
A trend of younger heroes is also present within the announced projects. “Hawkeye” will introduce Kate Bishop, played by Hailee Steinfeld, as she is mentored by Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton/Hawkeye. In the Marvel comics, Bishop takes on the moniker “Hawkeye” after Barton.
“Ironheart”, which does not not currently have a release date, is set to introduce young inventor Riri Williams to the screen. Williams will be portrayed by Dominique Throne and in the Marvel comics Williams holds connections to Tony Stark/Iron Man.
Kamala Khan, portrayed by Iman Vellani, will come to the screen in “Ms. Marvel”. Not only will the introduction of Ms. Marvel bring another female cast member to the MCU, the series will introduce the first Pakistani hero as well.
Efforts to increase ethnic diversity within the franchise as seen in “Ironheart” and “Ms. Marvel” will introduce some of the first women of color to the MCU following the introduction of characters such as Shuri and Okoye in “Black Panther” (2018). A trend in increasing ethnic and racial diversity by Marvel Studios is further exemplified in other productions such as the movie “Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings”, set to be released in July 2021.
This new format of storytelling gives Marvel creatives the opportunity to focus on specific characters in ways that aren’t able to occur in their movies. Feige described the use of television series as “a perfect expansion point” while providing audiences with “immersive” experiences in the 2020 Disney Investor Day presentation.
With the introduction of so many female heroes being through these series, there is much room for Marvel creators to bring forth a female perspective in a previously male-dominated storyline.
“It really is about the individual stories you want to tell and a bit informed by the bigger picture,” Feige said in an interview with Collider. “We knew that we wanted to introduce Ms. Marvel first and her family and all of her great supporting characters and her origin in a Disney+ long-form series, and then bring her into Captain Marvel 2.”
As the MCU expands through formats other than its principle big-motion pictures, audiences will be given the chance to embrace the lives of many female heroines. Perhaps this is where the future lies- in a world where women are center stage in imagined realities of power and potential.
Image Source: Deadline